Houston 8.9.17

My Dearest Friend,

I’m back in the States. It’s been a long year since I was last living here, but I suppose it’s good to be back. I loved Japan. I loved living in Kyoto and looking out my window to see mountains circling the city. However, I think I have learned what there is for me to learn in Japan at this point in my life. Living abroad, I learned a lot about myself and the world I live in, but I also found that there is much I don’t know about my own country and myself. Before I go abroad again, I have things to do here.

First, I want to continue developing myself and my interests. I tend to become mired in my work, so I forget to pursue interests and hobbies. Worse yet, I sometimes forget to enjoy them once they’ve been added to my daily to-do list. I want to make a focused effort on having hobbies and extracurricular activities that I enjoy outside of my major and career goals. Related to that, I want to keep working on my language skills, now for my own sake rather than for classes. I’ve spent a lot of time on my Japanese, and I want to keep it up. I want to become bilingual. Living in an international dorm for a year, most people I knew spoke at least two if not three or four languages. I want that too.

The next primary goal over this next year is to continue my journey toward self-sufficiency. I’m finally living in non-university housing for the first time since I left home. I’m also working on getting a part-time job to pay for as many of my day-to-day expenses as possible. As a college student in America, I have always had a foot in both worlds, childhood and adulthood. After having been mostly independent and self-sufficient for a year abroad, I don’t want to go back to being a pseudo-adult. I’m not in a position yet where I can shake it off completely, but I can start a conscious journey toward being fully independent.

Lastly, I want to further invest in my relationships, both here at home and those I built while abroad. I have always struggled to stay in contact with people I no longer see regularly. For much of my time abroad, I had little if any contact with people from home. However, I also was reminded of how wonderful my friends from OU are and how important they are to me and my life. I want to actively invest in and develop those relationships further while maintaining the friendships I spent a year building in Japan. I am no longer content to take a passive role in my friendships. My life is only as fulfilling as I make it.

I have changed a great deal over the past year. Now that I’m in motion, I don’t want to stop. There is so much more out there for me, and I am capable of so much more than I have in the past expected of myself. This year, back in a comfortable place with a group of amazing friends nearby, is the perfect time to explore what I can do. Once I have tested and expanded the limits of my capability, I will be ready to explore the world more fully. My next flight is coming soon—I want to make sure that I’m ready for it.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Kyoto 6.23.17

My Dearest Friend,

With a month left of my semester and a month and a half until I leave Japan, the end of my time in Japan is drawing close. This semester has flown faster than I could ever have imagined. The month since I last wrote has been a blur of flashcards and readings, trying to keep up with my workload. Now with the end of the semester in sight, my normal work has been supplemented with presentations, exams, and research reports. It will be very difficult to make sure I don’t let my busyness get in the way of enjoying my last few weeks here in Japan.

I did have a break this past week however. Two of my close friends from the States are studying in Asia this summer as well, and they stayed with me in Japan for a few days on their way. It was fun getting to catch up and show someone else the city that I’ve loved living in all year. I also finally visited the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji, along with the Ritsumeikan World Peace Museum. It was a relief to have a break from my studies and to explore the city a little more. I also had forgotten just how much I missed my friends from home. So despite being very sorry to leave Japan, I know I’m returning to great friends who love and miss me.

Before I leave I’ll sit down and try to put into words all the things I’ve learned here, but one is already on my mind. Growing up, I loved studying ancient history and civilizations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese—these groups were so much more interesting to me than politics or modern cultures. It still makes sense to me. I’m a lover of fantasy, so civilizations with their own histories and cultures that were fundamentally removed from me were more interesting to me than the mundane realities of my world. What I didn’t understand until recently is that modern European or Asian countries were no more real to me than their ancient counterparts. I was just as removed from the modern world. Growing up in America, especially living in one city for the majority of my life, everything outside America was either the same as America or didn’t really exist. Even after visiting China last summer, I still didn’t really understand that people live in ways that are fundamentally different than how I always had.

It turns out, I don’t need a car, a dryer for my laundry, or even to be home with my family on every holiday. All of those are good things, but they are not necessary aspects of life. There are also things I always expected to be part of my future that don’t necessarily need to be. I expected my future to be defined by working long hours before coming home to a silent apartment, living out my life in the States. That doesn’t have to be my future. I can travel. I can live in a new country every few years. I can find things I love to do and work to support myself, even if it’s not building a glamorous career. I don’t know what my future holds, but that’s half the fun.

My friend, when I return we will have so much to talk about. I hope you’ll still recognize me. I feel like I’m so different than I was when I left. Honestly, I think I’ve grown into a stronger and more beautiful person. Hopefully you’ll agree. I’ll try to write again once finals are over.

Sincerely,

Kestrel

Houston—September 1, 2016

My Dearest Friend,

As you requested, I will write you during my trip to Japan. To prove to you that I will not neglect our correspondence, I am writing my first letter now, as I prepare for my departure next week. I hope to write you every week or two for as long as I am gone so that you may share in my adventures.

I never realized how difficult it is to pack up one’s life and move it. Of course, I’ve moved several times, both as a kid and into my dorm each year of college, but moving to another country is certainly harder. So much of my “life” seems to exist in random objects, most of which I am unable to bring, as well as in my friends whom I must leave. It will be very difficult to go so far and not have you beside me.

So far I’ve had to develop a mostly new wardrobe (due to cultural and climate differences in Kyoto), continue to secure the necessary documentation for my trip, and set my finances in order. Now, all that is left is to pack. I have a few days of packing ahead of me as well as the last of my goodbyes. I can’t say that I’m particularly looking forward to these last few days, but I wouldn’t skip them for the world. When I get back, much will be different. My sister will be moving into her dorm room for her freshman year of college while many of my friends from school will have graduated. I hate goodbyes. But that is why I’m writing letters to you and my other friends—so that I don’t really have to say goodbye.

I pray you’ll be safe while I’m gone. I miss you terribly, but this is the adventure of a lifetime. I’ll see you when I return. Please write.

Forever Yours,

Kestrel

The Road Ahead

Three weeks left. It’s a crazy thought. How did it become the end of the semester so soon? I’m three weeks away from being half-way done with my college career. Where did it go? And even scarier—it’ll be over a year until I next sit here on the OU campus. When I move out of my dorm room and make the drive home, I won’t be coming back until my senior year. Thinking of how much can change in a year or a month or even a single day, what will life be like when I return? Will I know my friends still? Will they still know me? This year has been a roller-coaster of growth and laughter and pain. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it alone. Now I prepare myself to bid these wonderful friends goodbye and embark on my first journey alone.

I’ve spent summers productively in the past. Last summer for instance I traveled to China and took a variety of classes both home and abroad. This year I could take classes once again, but I’d rather find an internship. I’ve been searching since winter, and I haven’t had much luck. However, I have a couple leads left, so there is still hope for me. I want to grow. I can be productive and get classes out of the way, but I won’t grow by testing out of classes again. I really need this opportunity to put myself in a new situation. Then again, when the summer ends I’ll be plunged headfirst into a new world, so perhaps a summer of comfort isn’t such a bad idea.

For those who don’t know, I’m studying in Japan this upcoming year. I’ll be at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. It’s incredibly exciting, but also quite scary. I’ve never been to Japan. I’m not fluent in the language. This upcoming year will likely be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, despite all that, it may also be one of the best times of my life. I’ve been waiting for this forever. I’ve spent almost two years now studying Japanese diligently to prepare. And now it’s time to see the results. Now it’s time to fly. The paperwork is turned in. I’ve looked through the class list and attended the pre-departure orientations. Now, I have to wait. Wait and watch the skies. The future awaits.

The Sands of the Hourglass

I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.

Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.

The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.

Reflections by the Fire

I sit here in this place that has become my home and think. I’ve become so accustomed to this inn and these friends and the laughter and stories that we’ve shared. A lot has changed over the months here though. Many friendships have grown, though some have faded. Some paths have converged, while others have split, leading us apart. I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and also lost contact with some of my friends from childhood.

It’s not just the group that has the changed though—I have changed. I have been assured by my friends that I’m very different than the girl who came to college last semester. The months have worked their magic and aged me. I have become more relaxed, more open to others, and more cautious with my words. I have learned more than I could have dreamed. Topics I once knew nothing about, I can now hold an intelligent conversation concerning. This semester I was involved in another political discussion group, again joining with other students to watch the weather of the world. After the first few weeks, I noticed that my fellow group members, knowing my field of interest and study, would ask me about economic issues in Asia. At first, I really didn’t think I was qualified to give any sort of response. However, I began to see a change in my answers as they became tolerably informed. I am by no means an expert, but I know enough now to analyze and think critically and give informed opinions.

The opportunities I’ve had this year have been innumerable. I’ve gotten to sit down and talk to academics and business executives. I’ve traveled to new parts of my country, while preparing for my first flight abroad. I’ve made friends from throughout the world, even from my own corner of it. As much as I’m excited to fly next week and start my journey abroad, I’m a bit sad at the thought of leaving this inn and this fireplace. However, I know I will return. And when I do, I will be a bit older and a bit wiser than I am now. Such is life. Even returning to the same place, I’m not really the same person who left. But I don’t believe that’s a bad thing.

The Flights of My Friends

It never occurred to me that during my time here in this resting place, this inn, I’d have to watch my friends take their own flights without me. However, the reality of the impermanence of this stage of life is starting to really hit me. Next semester most of my friends will have found their own homes and will no longer share this inn with me. The seats next to the fireplace where we are wont to congregate will be left empty. I will sit alone and see new faces come through while my family that I have found here has left me. In a mere week my family will leave without me on the first of their flights. However, I too will fly, though not so far. Nay, it is the future I can see on the horizon that saddens me.

This time next year one of my best friends will have flown across oceans to land on the other side of the world from me. A semester does not seem that long in the grand scheme of things, but upon his return my own journey will begin. Next winter we will bid each other farewell for a year and a half. That thought is lonelier than I thought possible. And yet, when I return it will only be a year before we graduate and leave this place of refuge, of nearness. Those eighteen months of separation that are daily drawing closer will very likely foreshadow a longer estrangement, perhaps even a lifelong one. How can you truly reconcile yourself to the idea that you may never again see one of your closest friends? I don’t know, but I will have to find out. Eventually I will have to say goodbye to all these people. It’s easier when I’m the one flying away, but in many cases I won’t have that option—they will leave me and take their own journeys. All I can wish for them is fair winds and good roads, fair thoughts and good friends.

The Road Home

Recently I’ve learned something about journeys: even if you intend to occasionally return home, the place from which you departed eventually ceases to really be “home.” Over the Christmas holidays I went back to Sugar Land for almost a month. I said I was going home, and I really believed it at the time. However, “home” is not a static place. In fact, I’m not certain it’s a place at all. Home is wherever you have become used to spending your time. It’s the place where you come together with those you care about and wish to spend time with. The house I grew up in is still special to me, but it isn’t really home. College—this crossroads, this inn—has become my home. I remember being told that this change would occur. I suppose I believed it, but I didn’t really understand it.

The joy of returning home at the end of the break was greater than I expected. However, it was also accompanied by a sort of melancholy premonition: the time I spend here is ticking away rapidly. We will all have to say goodbye and, once again, we will leave home. There is solace though. We lost our attachment to our first home without even noticing it, so why do we assume the next transition will be harder? Every goodbye is hard, but every goodbye passes. I will leave this home too, and I will be grateful for the time that was, not bitter that it couldn’t last. Good things aren’t static; they change. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something to be remembered so that I don’t lose the moment I have. Tomorrow will come, and I will return to the journey. Perhaps I will return to this home to visit, just as I returned to the home of my childhood, but perhaps I won’t pass this way again. Well, either way, I will follow the road.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring